As Matt Carpenter finds a new role with the St. Louis Cardinals, what is his best-case scenario for the coming season?
The shortened 2020 MLB season was a tough one for a lot of players, and Matt Carpenter was among them. Over 50 games (169 plate appearances), he hit just .186/.325/.314 with four home runs, 24 RBI and 10 extra base hits. Then the Cardinals went and traded for Nolan Arenado, moving Carpenter off his starting spot at third base.
Carpenter’s struggles last season were actually a continuation of 2019, when he posted a .226/.334/.392 slash-line with 15 home runs and 46 RBI over 129 games (492 plate appearances). Over the last two seasons, he has a .216/.332/.372 slash-line (.704 OPS, 89 OPS+). From the second half of 2019 through last season, he had a .201/.320/.339 slash-line (.659 OPS).
Carpenter’s 2018 was an outlier (36 home runs), but he did hit more than 20 home runs in three straight seasons prior to that. At 35 years old now, 20-plus home run power may not be coming back.
Where does Matt Carpenter fit in the Cardinals’ 2021 plan?
An early storyline from Cardinals’ camp is where Carpenter fits in now. However, he is adamant that he’s not ready to be a part-time player.
“Well, I don’t know if it’s been established that I’m a part-time player just yet,” Carpenter said. “There is a lot of camp left. There is a lot of season left. I’m going to go out and compete every day to be in our lineup. Who knows where that’s going to be? If I find a way in there it could be at a different position. That’s my mentality this spring — to go out and win a job.”
Cardinals’ manager Mike Shildt dismissed Carpenter as a candidate for a corner outfield spot from the outset this spring.
This week on MLB Network Radio, team president John Mozeliak said the “best case” for Carpenter is to win the starting job at second base.
With the departure of Kolten Wong leaving the spot open, Carpenter’s competition at second base is Tommy Edman. Edman didn’t hit particularly well last season, but after being called up in 2019 he hit .304 with an .850 OPS, 11 home runs and 15 stolen bases over 92 games (349 plate appearances). Last season he played 31 games at third base (17 starts), but he saw action at a total of five positions.
Carpenter can also play multiple positions. But the last time he played second base primarily was 2013. He’s slated to make $18.5 million this year, so the Cardinals are probably stuck with him. The best case for Carpenter is to win the second base job this spring, and push Edman into a utility role.
For the Cardinals, the reverse looks to be the best-case scenario in order to field their best lineup.